In the back of our minds, we all know that we spend too much time on our phones. And according to journalist and science writer Sharon Begley, author of Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions, our addiction to the social media vortex can be explained by our desire to boost our mood every time we feel a “dopamine plunge” – dopamine being the neurotransmitter that controls our pleasure and reward centres.
This reward pattern runs deep, with a study published in the journal Plos One, finding that people with problematic internet use exhibited physical withdrawal symptoms when they were offline that were like the symptoms of cannabis, alcohol, and opiate withdrawal.
Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris agrees. Now the founder of Time Well Spent, a non-profit movement designed to pry our minds from our devices, Tristan believes that another reason we just can’t stop ourselves from checking-in on the latest Insta story is because social media has been engineered to become addictive.
In his interview with Kara Swisher on an episode of Recode Decode, Tristan gives the example of Twitter:
“A lot of people don’t know of a deliberate design element inside of products that makes it work like a slot machine. So, let’s use the Twitter examples, as we’re talking about it. You know how you land on Twitter and then there’s this extra delay. There is a couple seconds, one second, two seconds, and then the number shows up of how many notifications you have. Okay, so they could have just shown you the number. But that extra delay is exactly how a slot machine works. It’s a variable schedule reward … the anticipation is what generates the large release of dopamine. Dopamine is actually released at anticipation, not at the moment.”
So, because simply advising you to not check your phone isn’t very helpful, one simple tool Harris suggests is enabling the greyscale setting on your phone. Sure, you’ll still be able to check it, but what good is your friend’s Snapchat of Vivid or an update of a holiday on Portugal’s coastline without any colour? Meaning you’ll be less likely to check in as often. Enabling greyscale is different on different models of Android phones, but can generally be changed via the “accessibility” menu. For iOS models, visit Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Colour Filters to make the switch.
Read More: Tech To Help You Curb Your Tech Addiction